Japanese Club: conversation and culture beyond anime

by James Hearne

Horizon Reporter

Angela Bruner asks the small group a simple question: “What would you like to talk about?”

            “Hobbies,” says one voice.

            “Pets,” says another.

            “We did hobbies last time, so let’s go with pets,” Bruner says. She then splits the Japanese-American Conversation and Culture Club into two groups. They then begin to discuss their preferred pets…in Japanese. 

            As it is a small crowd this week, due to several illnesses, the groups are not very large, about three people. The conversations are fast and fluid. Bruner says, “Nani wa inu desu” (What kind of dog do you have?) They then have a small back and forth about what kind of pets they prefer, dogs (inu), cats (neko) or various others.

            Bruner says she came up with the idea for the club to strengthen cultural understanding, not just communication skills. She said that she had attended a similar club at Western Washington University, and thought it was great. But it only covers language and conversation. There is not a lot of focus on the culture. In the JACCC, they watch Japanese films, and hold demonstrate Japanese traditions, as well as Japanese social conventions.

            “There was a wall I wanted to break down,” Bruner said.

            In most meetings, there is a half-hour of English conversation, for the benefit of Japanese students, followed by conversations in Japanese. Bruner says that the diversity is one of the strengths of the club.

            The advisor, Setsuko Buckley, says that the club also can serve Japanese ESL (English as a Second Language) students, as they are ideal language partners.  

            Brunner says they try to avoid the stereotypes that plague Japanese people, as well as people who study Japanese language and culture. In particular, she said, a lot of people think that Japanese culture is all about anime, or Japanese animation. She said she once had a roommate who often complained of anime fans who only wanted to be her friend because she was Japanese.   

            Ryo Matsubara, an international student from Japan, says that he enjoys his time in the club. He says that it has been invaluable in helping him improve his English. When asked what he enjoys most about the club, he has a simple answer.

            “Being around Americans,” he said.  

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